Mahaiwe: John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey: Partners in all the right ways
GREAT BARRINGTON -- It would be hard to find another couple more appealing for an enjoyable night out than John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, the winsome husband-and-wife team on the cabaret circuit who once more proved most companionable in one of their Pizzarelli Family Concerts, Saturday evening at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
They are funny in their affectionate bantering back and forth as two people with some two decades' experience of caring about each other are wont to do. And with a wisp of self-deprecation they are willing to share with apparent candor some career milestones -- the near misses, along with the joys of triumph.
And then, they are talented in the way they make music together, with a refreshingly different approach to the matter, venturing beyond the formulaic strategy of he sings, she sings and then they sing. Like artists creating collages, they build medleys of songs -- generally two, often from different composers -- into distinctive, thoughtful, often lovely, layers of ideas for the listener to ponder.
"Waiting for the Girls Upstairs" from Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," initiated by Molaskey at the downbeat, fused seamlessly with Pizzarelli's "All I Need Is the Girl," plucked from Jule Styne and Sondheim's "Gypsy." So too did Pizzarelli's swinging delivery of Irving Berlin's "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing" ("White Christmas") and Molaskey's saucy "Nice Girls Don't Stay for Breakfast," the provocative tune written by Bobby Troup for his wife, Julie London.
And in between all the wisecracks, the Pizzarellis can get very romantic indeed, he blending the sensuous strains of Harry Warren and Al Dubin's "I Only Have Eyes for You," she interpolating the forthright Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh standard, "It Amazes Me."
The Pizzarellis have managed -- over 15 years of marriage, 20 years together since meeting on the stage in a show, as they explain -- to bring together their disparate worlds. His resides in jazz, first absorbed as a child from his father, the master guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli who made this son a virtuoso in his own right, employing the guitar with often fierce dexterity as a revealing extension of his soul, extending that musicianship to a voice that embraces the upper reaches of the scores in which he dwells.
Molasky's world is Broadway, gleaned from an early devotion to recordings of Sondheim, a composer on whom she seems especially to thrive. Her alternately robust and sweet vocal instrument -- a Broadway voice in the best sense of the word -- exudes the gentle message of "Children Will Listen" from "Into the Woods," then glides easily into the frantic vocal athleticism of a woman confronting nuptial terror in "I'm (Not) Getting Married Today" from "Company."
For many, the evening's pièce de résistance arrived late in the proceedings: Bucky, the family patriarch, or as Pizzarelli described his father, "The Pope," joined his son for a dazzling display in 12-string duets of harmony and attendant fireworks, the two slyly alternating on filigreed jazz riffs and thumping rhythm in such tunes as "Three Little Words" from the Tin Pan Alley team of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby and Johnny Green's passionate "Body and Soul." The senior Pizzarelli will turn 88 Jan. 8, his son proudly disclosed, beaming at a gentleman who continues to prove that age need not be a deterrent in the vigorous pursuit of one's destiny.
Along with brother, Martin Pizzarelli on double bass, the current Pizzarelli Quartet seems among the best assembled, with two debutants in the group, Konrad Paszkudzki, whose considerable keyboard skills exceed the spelling accuracy of his last name in the house program, and Kevin Kanner, the animated new drummer. On another occasion it would be interesting to hear more extended solo work from each of them.
Following standing ovations, first for Bucky, and then for the rest of the crew, the generous set of 101 minutes, absent of intermission, finally adjourned at 9:45, from the stage to the Mahaiwe's mobbed foyer for the traditional exchange of currency and more than a score of available Pizzarelli/Molaskey CD albums -- commerce, along with art, moving onward and upward for the most talented, and the very enterprising.
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